spiderman 3

Analysing Spider-Man 3: A Major Disappointment

Posted ScriptGeek Uncategorized

spiderman 3I remember being blown away by Spider-Man 2 when I watched it back in 2004. It was the most sophisticated superhero movie I had seen, and I made sure to catch it again before it ran its course in the cinema.

Going in, I hadn’t known what to expect, because while I had enjoyed the first movie, I didn’t class it as a ‘great’ movie. However, I was stunned by the way the movie balanced character driven plot with high octane action sequences. The movie’s villain, Doctor Octopus, was fantastic: they had grounded him in a way the comics had never achieved, while at the same time further developing Harry Osborne’s arc, and setting him up for an inevitable showdown with Spider-Man in part 3.

That day, after first seeing Spider-Man 2, I remember chatting with colleagues and we were talking about who we would like to see show up as a villain in the inevitable third movie. I instantly thought of the Sandman. His powers could test Spider-Man in ways he had not been tested on screen before, plus there was ample potential in the special effects department. He would of course be backed up by the new Green Goblin in Harry Osborne.

I was pleasantly surprised when rumors started appearing that Sandman would in fact be the villain. While, admittedly, his comic book back story did not exactly scream cinema gold, a talented screenwriter could no doubt provide his character with the necessary boost. But when rumors began to circulate that fan-favorite villain, Venom, would make an appearance in the movie, I was certain that this was hearsay. With Thomas Haden Church already confirmed cast as Sandman, how could they possibly find room to include a major villain such as Venom?

For those that don’t know, Venom is one part Eddie Brock, a disgraced journalist with a deep seething hatred for Spider-man, and one part an alien symbiote that increases the strength and ferocity of whichever host it’s currently bonded with.

And you should also know that one cannot simply tell the story of Venom without acknowledging the point that, at one time, the symbiote had Spider-Man as its host, and their relationship nearly drew Spider-Man over the edge, until he discarded the alien.

My point is, if you are going to tell the story of Venom, you need to tell the story of how Spider-Man once wore the alien symbiote. Why? Because it’s cool.

So that’s a lot for one movie…let alone a movie with Sandman, and a guaranteed onslaught from Harry Osborne (because movie 2 promised as much).

And when it was later announced that Gwen Stacy would feature in the movie too, my alarm bells were on full sound.

Something had to give. And unfortunately, it did in a big way.

Spider-Man 3 is one of the most disappointing movies I have seen. Let me get it straight: it’s not a bad movie, because if you remove any comic book fan bias, or any preconceived notions based on previous entries in the movie series, then it is a pretty decent and entertaining flick. But when you take into consideration the fantastic groundwork the two previous movies laid, then the third entry can only be viewed as a colossal disappointment.

If you haven’t guessed it already, I am a pretty big Spider-Man fan (my tastes predominantly set on the Amazing Spider-Man comics published in the 70s, 80s and 90s), but to be fair to the movie, I cannot judge it through the eyes of a die-hard fan. That means excusing the fact that Topher Grace was cast as Eddie Brock. That means excusing the fact that Harry Osborne does not become the Green Goblin as fans would know him. That means excusing the fact that Gwen Stacey shows up as a love interest for Peter Parker, after his relationship with Mary Jane has been established.

Forget all of that, because none of it really matters. If the movie has a good screenplay, I’ll let myself become sucked in. I’ll accept that this movie universe is its own take on ole webhead. But, unfortunately, Spider-Man 3’s screenplay is lacking.

Going into Spider-Man 3, I would think that any writer’s responsibility would be two-fold. One, to create a new and interesting villain for Spider-Man to face, and, two, to resolve the Harry Osborne storyline in a way that is faithful to the material already established in movies one and two.

I genuinely believe that’s how things started in the writers’ meetings. However, somewhere along the way, perhaps bigwigs and execs got in the way, and pushed Sam Raimi into including Venom – an alien that, even in a superhero movie, seemed a universe away from the world established in Raimi’s Spider-Man series. I always believed that it would be a real challenge to make Venom work, but if done right, if carefully and lovingly orchestrated, we would buy it.

So while a screenplay like this can work, it can’t really work with the inclusion of another villain (unless that villain has already been established in previous movies – Harry Osborne). With the inclusion of new villain Venom on top of new villain Sandman, Raimi really needed two movies for this storyline.

Simply put, whether he was pressured into including Venom by Marvel brass or not (the jury is out on that one), Raimi’s film becomes a mess with the inclusion of our favorite symbiote wearing rogue.

And I believe it is possibly the reason why Raimi called early doors on Spider-Man 4, in which he had difficulty getting the screenplay to anything worth filming. He was not going to fall into a trap again of pleasing too many people, adding too many ingredients to the pot, and coming out with something that doesn’t meet your satisfaction.

Maybe I’m wrong, and Spider-Man 3 is Raimi’s definitive vision, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s not.

Before I begin my analysis of Spider-Man 3, let’s take a look at the basic plot summaries of all three of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man movies.

Spider-Man

A mild-mannered teenager, Peter Parker, is bitten by a genetically altered spider and becomes Spider-Man. Meanwhile, Norman Osborne, the billionaire father of Peter’s closest friend, Harry, is twisted by a performance enhancing serum, becoming the Green Goblin. This villain will strike at the heart of everything Peter Parker holds dear … even his one true love, Mary Jane.

Spider-Man 2

When Mary Jane arrives back into Peter’s life, he discovers that she is engaged, but that she still has feelings for him. Meanwhile, Peter’s hero, the nuclear scientist Otto Octavius is seriously injured in a lab accident, and becomes the monstrous villain, Dr. Octopus.  With Spider-Man’s powers suddenly fading, Peter must decide whether he can continue to be the hero New York needs, as Harry Osborne plots to uncover Spider-Man’s true identity by any means necessary.

Spider-Man 3

Peter Parker is ready to propose to Mary Jane. But his life is complicated again by the emergence of the Sandman, a villain who is responsible for the death of Uncle Ben. At work, Peter finds himself butting heads with a rival photographer, Eddie Brock, and, having uncovered Spider-Man’s true identity, Harry Osborne is now on the hunt for Peter, eager to avenge his father’s death. Meanwhile, an alien life-form attaches itself to Peter, and he is twisted into something darker.

As you can see, Spider-Man 3’s summary is significantly more complicated than the previous two. I haven’t even mentioned the fact that Eddie Brock will become Venom. There doesn’t even seem to be room for that!

In the first two movies, the threads are all moving in the same direction to become one cohesive point. In Spider-Man 3, everything is moving in different directions. Sandman has his own things going on, Harry has his own gig, and Eddie Brock too. It’s only through vague contrivance that they manage to bring all of these characters together for the movie’s conclusion.  This movie is messy.

OK, so let’s take a look at it in greater detail, finally.

 

Act One

spiderman_swing

As it begins, we learn that Spider-Man has now won great public support. A celebration day is due to be held soon in honor of the wall crawler. It’s all a welcome change. The guy has saved the city twice already, right? About time he got a little wide scale gratitude.

There’s a nice little scene here as Peter attends a Broadway show featuring Mary Jane. Peter watches as Mary Jane sings ‘They Say It’s Wonderful’, as, from above, Harry Osborne watches Peter. The look in Harry’s eyes tells us that he will now come after Peter in a big way. He’s being patient with this, and he’s going to hit Peter where it hurts. Looks like all of that build up in the first two movies will pay off!

Shortly after, Pete and MJ are watching the stars from Central Park, when a meteorite falls nearby. An alien life-form climbs off the rock and attaches to Peter’s moped as he’s driving away. And it’s as simple as that. Yes, that’s right. The symbiote has traveled untold light years and landed in the lap of Earth’s strongest citizen, and world famous hero, Spider-Man.

I’m already unsettled, but it looks like we’re going to have to take this one on the chin for the sake of the movie. If this is as bad as it gets, then so be it.

In one of the better scenes in the movie, we’re introduced to Flint Marko, an escaped convict with a sick daughter who misses her father. Flint needs to raise money to make her better, and he’s sacrificed morals to get this far. His wife mentions that he may have even killed a man. It’s a nice, character scene that explores the relationship between Flint, his wife and their daughter. Unfortunately, this scene is almost the extent of Flint’s character study.

After leaving his family, he’s on the move again, but during his escape he detours into a research facility where a scientific experiment is underway. When Flint falls into a particle accelerator, he becomes the Sandman.

This incident rings a little false with the audience. We bought Normon Osbourne becoming the Green Goblin, and we bought Otto Octavius becoming Doctor Octopus, because it was their own scientific drive, arrogance, and lust for advancement that turned them into villains. But Flint Marko literally stumbles into his superpower. The scientific team happen to be testing their particle accelerator at that exact moment.

It’s a hard note to digest, but we’ll have to run with it. Although, is it any different to Peter being bitten on the hand by a genetically mutated spider?

Meanwhile, Peter visits his Aunt May and reveals his intent to propose to Mary Jane. In one of the longer, duller scenes in the movie, Aunt May proceeds to guilt trip Peter with a story of how Uncle Ben proposed to her. This scene could have been a great deal shorter.

Soon after, Peter is ambushed by Harry Osborne, who is dressed for battle. When I saw this fight scene in a preview, I expected it to be placed later in the movie, but it looks like Harry is up first to take on Pete.

Harry suffers a head injury in the fight, which causes a bout of amnesia. As a result, Harry forgets that Peter is Spider-Man, and can now resume their friendship as a result.

Personally, I’ve always hated amnesia storylines, and in this case, it’s just a convenient way for the writers to remove the hassle of Harry Osborne’s antagonism until they need him again later. Well, I’m sorry. You built this character up, and you have a responsibility to honour the arc you laid the foundations for. Instead, in this crowded movie, Harry is sidelined until useful again.

We meet Eddie Brock, who is a rival photographer at the Daily Bugle. We don’t learn much about him, other than that he’s cocky and he has a big mouth, which I guess is supposed to place him polar opposite to Peter.

Meanwhile, in a strong visual moment, the Sandman struggles to regain some measure of physicality. He’s heartbroken as his hand is unable to pick up a locket containing a picture of his daughter. Once he regains his strength, a resolve in his eyes tell us he will now stop at nothing to make sure his daughter lives. It’s moments like these that make you believe there is a strong, heartfelt movie dying to break free from this mess.

sandman_daughter

On the subject of Sandman, he presents an interesting case. While the Green Goblin and Doctor Octopus were peers of Peter Parker’s before their transformation, Flint Marko is a complete unknown. Peter has absolutely no connection to this man, and considering that the writers wish to portray Sandman as somebody who is operating with the intention of saving his daughter’s life, there is a dilemma here.

If the writers wish to keep Sandman’s righteousness, he cannot kill anyone. If he’s going to be the lesser of evils in this movie’s series of villains, he can’t be as relentless as others. So, what will drive Spider-Man to chase down this man, truly? What will make him leave his apartment at 3 in the morning knowing this guy is out there?

Well…we could just make it so Sandman was the guy who shot Uncle Ben.

Wait, not that other guy from the first movie who fell to his death, after that powerful choice where Spiderman let him escape from a robbery?

No. Let’s retcon it and make Flint Marko his accomplice, and let’s have him be the one who tries to steal Ben Parker’s car and ends up shooting him.

Oh right, so what you’re saying is…Peter chased after the wrong guy in the first movie, which kind of led to the guy falling out of a window and breaking his neck? Wouldn’t that kind of weigh heavy on Peter’s shoulders?

Well not really, because the guy did point a gun at Pete’s head and was ready to pull the trigger.

Ah … true, but, still, all this doesn’t really sit right with me. It’s obvious you guys never intended the story to be this way when you wrote the first movie.

Who cares how it looks, Spider-Man 1 was a different movie, and this new plot device serves this movie.

Look, I’ll accept it and move forward. So Peter’s now got a motive for finding the Sandman, who will soon be busy doing things like robbing brink’s trucks and coating rooftops with sand.

Meanwhile, things aren’t exactly working out between Mary Jane and Peter. She’s had some bad reviews of her play, and when Peter tries to console her by comparing them to the public scrutiny and bad press Spider-Man once received, she throws it in his face.

I’m really disappointed with Mary Jane’s character in this movie. To be honest though, she was never exactly painted glowingly throughout the first two films either. In film one, she bounces from Flash Thompson, to Harry, to Spider-Man, and then to Peter (back when she thought they were separate guys), and then by the time we catch up with her in Spider-Man 2, she’s already engaged to John Jameson. But she waits until her wedding day, and ditches Dear John at the altar, returning to her one, true love, Peter.

Spider-Man 2 ends with Mary Jane watching our hero swing into the distance, on the hunt for some new public menace. The look in her eyes tells us that she’s not completely certain if she’s made the right choice, because having Spider-Man as your boyfriend no doubt brings a lot of baggage.

We’ve seen Peter go through a lot in the first two movies, so it would have been nice to see how Peter and MJ’s relationship develops in a positive light. Maybe the writers couldn’t envisage it, because in Spider-Man 3, MJ is depicted as self centred, and perhaps regretful of the choice she made to be with Peter. To complicate matters, the ‘other woman’ is introduced in Gwen Stacy – more on that soon.

And as if things couldn’t look worse for MJ, after an argument with Peter, she ends up back with Harry. Whatever happened to self sufficient women? But, as in movies 1 and 2, she’ll still be used as bait to lure Spider-Man at the end of this film though.

Act Two

spiderman_black

So, back to Gwen Stacy – we meet her in the middle of a downtown fashion photo shoot. Things take a turn for the worse when a crane topples into the building and leaves ole Gwen hanging on for dear life. On the streets below we’re introduced to her father, Captain Stacy, of New York’s finest. He’s joined by Eddie Brock, Gwen’s apparent boyfriend, who would rather crack jokes and take pictures of the incident for the Daily Bugle than appear concerned.

Soon after Spider-Man saves the day, we’re treated to a celebration day in honor of our favorite hero, which is a nice turnaround to see him finally appreciated on a grander scale. In Mary Jane’s eyes, all of this seems to be going to Peter’s head, but I can’t help thinking that if I were out busting my balls saving the city every night, and only receiving a measure of gratitude, to then suddenly be swimming in public adoration, I’d be feeling pretty good about myself too. Given the tough life Peter leads, maybe she could let him have his moment.

Finally, Mary Jane has some cause for anger when we see Spider-Man plant a kiss on Gwen, simply to make a good photo. And things go from bad to worse when she’s fired from her play, due to the bad reviews.

MJ still gets dressed up to meet Peter at a fancy restaurant later though, where he’s almost about to pop the question. Pete can’t understand why she’s upset about that kiss, but it’s definitely brought MJ over the edge. She leaves, and we wonder now how things will recover between them.

Soon, Peter learns the shocking news that the Sandman is the one responsible for killing Uncle Ben. After hearing this, MJ visits Peter and, in one of her more positive scenes, tells him that she’s there for him, and doesn’t want him to do something he’ll regret. Peter boldly claims that he doesn’t need her help. These two really go back and forth!

Later that night, the alien symbiote makes its appearance, after remaining hidden in Peter’s run-down apartment. It bonds with our hero, who wakes up hanging upside down from a building, his costume now black instead of the famous red and blue. After some acrobatic scenes demonstrating that the symbiote has increased Spider-Man’s abilities, he hunts the Sandman.

Spider-Man arrives at a bank, but he’s too late, Sandman has already helped himself to the vault. Eddie Brock approaches Spider-Man and asks the hero for a photograph. Instead, Spider-Man breaks Brock’s camera. Something’s definitely different with Peter. But sneaky Brock has brought a reserve, and begins snapping some photos of the bank scene, which will pay off later.

Spider-Man finds Sandman underground, and driven by revenge, he knocks his enemy into a pit and wipes him out with a torrent of water. This is probably the closest we get to the comic or cartoon interpretation of symbiote wearing Spider-Man, who at times almost found himself crossing that dangerous line. For all Spider-Man knows, he has killed the Sandman, and he doesn’t seem to care. Things are looking promising for this interpretation.

peter-singingIt’s all quickly damaged when Peter decides that having a comb down haircut equates to having a darker personality. We see him being rude to his landlord, and, disturbed by his own actions, Peter tosses the symbiote costume into a trunk.

There’s a nice little scene here where Peter visits Aunt May, proudly informing her that Spider-Man killed the Sandman, but he is surprised to find that his Aunt does not share his lust for revenge. She reminds him that revenge is a poison – a valuable lesson and scene for any iteration of this movie.

A despondent Mary Jane applies for a waitress job, and then decides it’s a good time to catch up with her ex-boyfriend, Harry Osborne.

“I need some company. Are you doing anything? Can I stop by?”

After some flirting, they kiss, and MJ instantly realizes what a terrible mistake she’s made. Whether it’s the guilt, or sadness, I don’t know, but something triggers in Harry that brings everything flowing back. He remembers that Peter is Spider-Man, and that he is responsible for killing his father.

Back in his Goblin gear, Harry forces MJ into breaking up with Peter, using the excuse that she’s in love with someone else. In the next scene, Harry lets Pete know that he’s the other guy. Apparently, Harry would prefer to Peter through some emotional trauma, rather than go straight for his heart literally.

After withdrawing to contemplate this recent turn of events, Peter arrives at Harry’s home, now donning the symbiote costume once again. The two go toe-to-toe, and Peter comes out the winner – after chucking a goblin bomb in his former friend’s direction.

Harry may be dead, or seriously wounded – we just don’t know, as the scene strangely cuts into a small musical number as Peter walks through New York confidently. When he sees that today’s newspaper contains a photo of Spider-Man which appears to implicate him in robbing the bank that Sandman knocked off, he knows that Eddie Brock is behind this. (By the way, why didn’t Spider-Man return all that money from the bank after defeating Sandman? Guess he never bothered picking it up.)

Peter confronts Brock about his photoshop job, and despite Eddie’s desperate pleas, Peter reveals all to his bosses.

‘You want forgiveness?” Pete sneers. “Get religion.”

That’s a line to remember for later.

We’re treated to another musical number as Peter’s symbiote appears to turn him into something of a wannabe lady’s man. Not exactly what I would have had in mind. The Spider-Man films have had their fair share of gags, but this symbiote is supposed to have a dangerous hold on our hero, not turn him into a laughing stock.

mary janeNot content with ruining the guy’s career, Peter goes on a date with Brock’s now ex-girlfriend, Gwen Stacy. It’s all a show to hurt MJ, as Pete takes Gwen to the same restaurant where MJ now works. It’s not even been 5 minutes, and we’re punished with another musical number, this time accompanied by a full on solo dance routine featuring Peter Parker. Who honestly  thought this was a good idea? The danger has been completely sapped from the movie at this point.

Harry’s out for the count, and though we witness Sandman crawl from the drains of NY, Spidey’s already trashed him, so where is the threat?

Right now, the only threat to Peter Parker is the alien symbiote that appears to have increased his sex drive and given him a penchant for dancing.

He’s about to get kicked out of the restaurant, when in a fit of rage he strikes MJ by accident. In his mind, he’s finally crossed the line. There’s a great moment next where Spider-Man climbs a church tower and attempts to remove the alien, and discovers that the symbiote does not like the sound of the church bells.

Unfortunately, right below, Eddie Brock has taken Peter’s “Get Religion” advice a little too seriously – he’s currently pleading with God to kill his arch-nemesis Peter Parker. You know, the guy who revealed the truth about his Photoshop design, and stole the girl who he didn’t give a damn about to begin with. Clearly the sufficient punishment for Peter is now death.

Wouldn’t it have been better to give Brock some real motivation? In the comics, after being publicly disgraced by Spider-Man and with his career now dead in the water, Brock decides to commit suicide. The symbiote finds him at his weakest moment, having been exiled by Spider-Man some time previous. With their mutual disdain for Spider-Man, they are made for each other. It’s not a world away from what the movie portrays, but at least Brock’s actions seem rational in the comics.

Well, in the movie, Brock wants God to just do him this one solid. Instead, the big man upstairs sends down the alien symbiote, now discarded from Peter. It latches onto Brock, and turns him into the monstrous Venom. Danger is back on.

For some reason, Venom does not choose to strike Peter now, even though he’s half naked and up a bell tower.

When Peter gets home, he tells Aunt May that he can’t marry MJ, because he hurt her. She urges him to forgive himself.

Act Three

spiderman_venom_fight

We’re treated to one quick scene of Venom swinging through New York, before he’s leveled by Sandman, who has mistaken him for Spider-Man. Now, this scene makes zero sense: Venom tells Marko that he has been searching for him, and he knows about Sandman’s daughter somehow. And he knows that Spider-Man doesn’t want Sandman to be able to help his daughter, so he’s offering Sandman a partnership.

Their motivations are equally based on weak foundations. Venom is able to convince Sandman that Spider-Man doesn’t want a sick little girl to get better? How is Spider-Man supposed to know about her existence? And how in the hell does Venom know about her for that matter?

Nevermind. Sandman agrees. It seems as if Venom can’t possibly take on Spider-Man alone. These guys aren’t going to get very far.

Their plan is to lure Spider-Man out. To do this, Eddie Brock impersonates a cab driver, and waits near MJ’s apartment. When she steps outside to hail a cab, Brock pulls up, and then kidnaps her …

Wait. How does Eddie know who MJ is? He found out Spider-Man’s identity in an earlier scene, but how does that link Peter to MJ, when they aren’t even dating anymore.

OK, we’ll just have to assume Eddie figured it out somehow.

In a great example of why showing is so much better than telling, what follows is a lazy and mind numbing exposition piece to establish the final set piece, as a television presenter and his ‘on the ground’ reporter explains that Mary Jane Watson, an aspiring actress, is suspended in a cab hanging on some webbing at an construction zone. Sandman and a ‘black suited’ menace are the perpetrators.

Peter knows he can’t beat Sandman and Venom together, so he asks for help from a now disfigured Harry Osborne. Harry refuses at first, but eventually goes to help his former friends when his personal butler informs him that Norman Osborne did not die at the hands of Spider-Man.

Great timing from the butler.

osborne_butlerI mean, this guy has kept this secret buried since the end of the first movie. He’s watched Harry spiral into depression, consumed by his rage. The kid has thrown his life away trying to get back at Spider-Man! What was going on with this butler in the meantime?

In my opinion, it would have been more powerful had Harry come to that conclusion naturally – that Peter was his friend, and that he should never have doubted him.

Either way, Harry joins the fight, and he and Spider-Man are able to defeat the villains, not before Harry gives his life to save Peter’s.

When Peter throws a goblin bomb to destroy the symbiote, Eddie Brock ends up killing himself trying to protect the alien. That’s that thread cleaned up.

We had a couple minutes of Venom screen time, and a few more minutes involving Eddie Brock and his Photoshop attempt. It all hardly seemed necessary in the end.

Next, Peter has a heart-to-heart with Sandman, who explains that Uncle Ben’s death was an accident, and that he’s a good person at heart. Peter decides to let Sandman go, having listened to Aunt May’s valuable words. And as we watch the sandstorm disappear through the city, we’re watching one of the stronger threads of the movie end, and what could have been substantially more powerful if given the breathing room.

Instead, Sandman is as worse off as he began with. His daughter is still ill, and he’s likely going to continue to steal in order to fund her recovery. It feels like closure, but it’s not. Peter is the only one who’s had closure; he’s learnt that revenge will destroy you.

Finally, as Harry dies, he and Peter forgive one another. The movie ends with Peter and MJ embracing and slow dancing, their future uncertain, but right now they want to be together.

So ends Spider-Man 3.

The obvious way of juggling all of these characters and threads would have been two movies. Apparently, screenwriter Alvin Sargent had contemplated splitting the storyline, but was unable to find a suitable story point to end a first movie.

My question is: why should the two movies be directly joined at the hip? Movie 1 could have contained Sandman, Harry and an alien symbiote suited Spider-Man, plus Eddie Brock. Movie 2 could then have included Venom. That’s if they were so dead-set on including Venom to begin with.

I feel as though they sold out at the last hurdle. This could have been an outstanding trilogy, but far too many ingredients were added in the last chapter, and they weren’t even cooked right.

But sometimes you find a scene that hits you, and you realize that there is a good movie buried inside Spider-Man 3.

And that makes it all the more sad.

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